Best-selling children’s author Dame Jacqueline Wilson entertained local children on Thursday with a talk and two-and-a-half hour book signing at Surbiton Library.
The former Children’s Laureate and lifelong Kingston resident spoke about her novels Hetty Feather and Sapphire Battersea, set in the Victorian era, and described her journey from budding teenage writer to the author of some 100 books.
Wilson told how she got the idea for her character Hetty Feather after London’s Foundling Museum, where she is a fellow, asked her to create a Victorian heroine:
‘I’ve always loved the Victorians,’ she said, ‘so when they asked if I would do a book about a Victorian girl who had been a foundling it seemed right up my street. I thought: “yes please, I’d love to do that”.’
The event was part of London libraries’ Cityread scheme, a programme of activities celebrating the bicentenary of Charles Dickens.
Wilson’s popularity is such that tickets sold out within 30 minutes. Some 70 children attended the talk and a further 100 came to the book signing.
Asked how writing Victorian stories was different, she said: ‘I worried about it because my books are known for being easy to read and therefore I did think “oh gosh, are the kids going to be put off by this?”
‘Luckily for me the children who like my books like Hetty Feather and the sequel Sapphire Battersea just as much, if not more. ’
Born in Bath, Wilson spent most of her childhood in Kingston. She attended Latchmeer Junior School, where a teacher nicknamed her ‘Jacky Daydream’, the title of her autobiography, and Coombe Girls’ School in New Malden.
During the talk she spoke of childhood trips to Surbiton with her grandma when she would visit her ‘all time favourite shop’, cake shop Peggy Brown’s, for its changing displays of dolls in the window.
She then described the walks she took in Richmond Park and its ‘magic garden’: the Isabella Plantation, while writing her novel Lily Alone, whose heroine runs away to the park with her siblings.
Recently voted English Children’s Favourite Author, Wilson has sold over 25 million books in the UK and is the most borrowed author from British libraries.
She has received countless prizes, including the Smarties Medal and Children’s Fiction awards, and was made a Dame in 2008.
On her astonishing ability to write from a child’s perspective, she said: ‘I have a very bad memory if you ask me what happened last year, but if you ask me what happened when I was ten: yes, I remember it all.
‘I just seem to be able to slot into what it feels like to be a child.’
Wilson’s next book, Emerald Star, is out in October. The Cityread series continues at Surbiton library with a one-man Dickens show by actor Laurence Foster on 17 April.